Weakness or Strength: Understanding Your Child’s Symptoms and Emotions from a Strength Based Perspective

Childhood behaviors are a major area of concern for the fields of psychology and education. As psychologists have advanced their diagnostic tool set, the list of disorders our children are exposed to, judged by, and labeled with has grown to staggering numbers in direct correlation with the advancements of our scientific endeavors. As a child, it seemed that I, along with most of my peer group in the classroom at the time, had been labeled with an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), now labeled simply Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It was the early 1980’s, and the use of amphetamines in children had bloomed into a growing and sustainable industry, and left a generation of focused deprived children dependent upon stimulants to increase productivity levels to societally acceptable standards. I remember my mother being told that I may benefit from medication, as I had shown quite a few disruptive behaviors in the classroom setting.

I, like many children in today’s classroom who suffer with attention deficits, propensities to daydream, a hyperactive predisposition, and a wild imagination do not fit within the modern day classroom setting. With energy levels that many adults cannot match, children within this category quickly become the focus of medical and scientific scrutiny, oftentimes become labeled, ostracized from their peer group, and lost in the 80/20 rule so common to our educational system. Although it is so common it is seen as an overarching principle within the education system, it nevertheless is sets dangerous prejudicial parameters by which we educate, review, and grade, and correct a student’s actions who may have been born just a little bit different.

The Pareto Principal states that a teacher will not be able to reach 20 percent of their classroom (Kruger, 2014). Roughly speaking, this 20% group exists within the top 10 percentile or the bottom 10 percentile of a normative bell curve of statistical analysis. The bottom 10%, if they are lucky, will attain an individualized education plan geared to help them overcome the learning, emotional, or physical disabilities that impedes their educational success. However, the top 10% undergoes a completely different course, will oftentimes be labeled as oppositional, will sorely lack the attention they need to fully optimize their success, may show hyperactive tendencies, or even worse, become disconnected from the very strength that makes them special, their propensity to organize, integrate, synthesize, desseminate information at a level many  their classroom counterparts, and sometimes even their teachers cannot keep pace with. The students in this category oftentimes fall in between the cracks due to a common factor that is often not explored within the academic halls of well intentioned professionals: Maybe they have simply become bored.

The school experience does not bode well for the attention levels of all children. Psychologically and physiologically, we are all born with innate differences. Strengths and weaknesses are prevalent and must be worked with as a means to help children work with, adapt, and overcome their weaknesses while amplifying their natural strengths as a means to bolster self-esteem. Schools do not always do this, as they are primarily geared in this country to teach children through lecture, visual cues, and mass dissemination of information through reading assignments that require the sustained attention of a child. These methods touch upon a child’s capacity to comprehend, memorize, and benefit from the task being assigned.  While this works for the 80%, it does not necessarily take into account the 20% that may show strength in other areas of intelligence.

Lets examine kinesthetics as an example of a different type of intelligence. While sports are a common part of the curriculum in the high school, college, and university settings, these programs are simply non-existent in a child’s early educational experience.  This is a tragedy, because it is during their early childhood experience that children will be most pliable to, reap the most benefit from, and build the most solid foundation within their love of learning.  During their early childhood experiences, even continuing through the early formal education years, their love for learning is most pliable within the context of their cognitive, emotional, and physiological development. It is here where issues of self-esteem can be molded to fit their individual strengths. However, on its opposite end, when strengths are not exposed, and weaknesses are amplified, as is so common in the educational setting, oppositional behaviors, distaste for the experience of learning, attention deficits, and other behavioral problems can arise, as children in 20% simply begin to fall through the cracks.

It is our duty to the next generation to amplify a child’s strengths while decreasing the effects their personal weaknesses have on their physiological, psychological, emotional, spiritual, moral, and ethical development. While this stands as good practice, I have seen a growing trend in the profession of psychology to label, treat (psychologically and/or pharmacologically), direct, and / or even ostracize children based upon differences seen in their learning capacities. It seems that our willingness as a society to keep up with status quo social expectations that oftentimes lacks clear direction within itself creates a divide between what we expect of our children and what we are willing to engage in ourselves. This sends mixed messages, in that we expect children to do what we say, and not what we do, but secondarily may not even know the reasoning behind why we are doing, and / or teaching in the first place.

In order to help children successfully navigate their developmental sequence, we must first define what represents a successful outcome for the children we wish to educate. While academics are important, they do not represent the sole system of thought children should be exposed to within the school setting. Music, art, civics, politics, history, math, science, kinesthetics, organized sports, exposure to new places, exposure to lessons in an experiential manner, and movement are all part of the exposure children must have in order to develop self esteem, define themselves, and adapt within, or even better yet, grow the system in which they take part.

I have seen first hand the effects that diagnostic labelling creates in children. As a youth, I remember being identified as ADD. However, even worse than being identified by professionals, I identified myself as ADD, even though at the time, I was just an inquisitive child that sought to satiate his love for learning. despite the educational experience I was exposed to, I craved new information, had a big imagination, and would often dream at times where dreaming was discouraged. It is within this context that a natural divide occurs between a child’s natural tendency to dream life forward, and social expectations that will fit them into a clearly defined box that promotes at least their educational development forward.

The propensity to dream is a natural cognitive state that promotes psychological, physical, and spiritual development. However, it can also be seen as lack of focus, difficulties with attention, and problems concentrating on tasks that need to be completed. Which propensity is right? For the child, their natural tendency to dream life forward sets a foundation for future goal directed activities they wish to engage. However, from the perspective of the working professional, dreaming can be a distraction to their overall goals, distracting or even derailing them from their professional objectives. Which side is right? well, that is to determine. However, it is in this tension that the true developmental growth occurs.

The diagnostic labels professionals use to understand complex behaviors that children exhibit during their developmental cycle can have multiple negative effects. One, self-esteem can decrease, as they begin to identify themselves with the diagnosed disorder they receive. This is a common phenomenon, that needs to be taught at a therapeutic and educational level. I have Tourette’s, but Tourettes Doesn’t Have Me stands as a testament for the type of education we need to provide children regarding the labels we have created to explain the difficulties they face (HBO, 2005). By teaching children ways to work with their particular weaknesses while secondarily identifying and amplifying their strengths, we help them to overcome to overcome their symptoms in a way that promotes self-esteem, healthy development, and an intact ego ready to take on, work within, and grow from the social experiences we dictate as a method to help our children grow into the successful people they will become.

Kruger, S. (2014). 80/20 in the Classroom: How to Change the Way You Work. Retrieved 30 March, 2017, from https://studyskills.com/educators/8020-in-the-classroom-how-to-change-the-way-you-work/

HBO (2005). I have Tourettes, but Tourettes Doesn’t Have Me. Retrieved 5 April, 2017 from https://www.tourette.org/about-tourette/tourettes-doesnt-have-me/

 

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